News headlines today seem to serve up endless reasons for pessimism among the Catholic faithful, but there’s also been some enormously positive developments in the Church in 2012. As this year draws to a close, here are five things I am personally thankful for—and I think you should be, too.
1. Pope Benedict XVI: Less philosophical than John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI instead has taken a sort of back-to-basics approach to his papacy that is rooted in the riches of theology. This approach is readily apparent in his first encyclical Deus Caritas Est as well as in his Jesus of Nazareth series, the most recent installment of which, The Infancy Narratives, was released the day before Thanksgiving. Benedict seems keenly aware of the need to defend orthodoxy, a habit of faith that is more essential than ever in today’s postmodern relativism that seems intent on leaving no stone of truth unturned. In practice, this has meant continuing his predecessor’s conservative interpretation of Vatican II, which is encouraging for the future of the Church.
2. Lingua Latina: Reports that a dead language was actually dead seem to have been premature. It seems that everywhere one looks in the Church today, Latin is on the rebound. Latin is slowly cropping back into the Mass and, as for the rest of the liturgy that is in English, it’s now more faithful to the original Latin. Those who prefer the whole Mass to be in Latin now have more opportunity to celebrate it thanks to Pope Benedict’s 2007 motu proprio. The renewed focus on Latin was reaffirmed earlier this month in the announcement of a new academy at the Vatican devoted to promoting the classical language. All this is a salutary development not only because it exposes both laity and clergy to the treasures of liturgical tradition, but also because the move towards re-Latinization rebuilds bridges across cultural divides among Catholics of different native tongues.
3. Seven New Saints: Saints are not just the stuff of medieval legend—they are among us today, as we were all reminded last month in the canonization of seven new saints, many from roughly the past century. From a teenage Filipino missionary and a disabled German nun to a martyr in Madagascar, their stories hold so much promise as inspiration to Catholics today. Of the seven, St. Kateri Tekakwitha seems to have captured hearts and headlines across the world as a woman who clung to her faith despite all the cultural odds against her. (Click here to read profiles of all seven of the recently canonized saints.)
4. Old and New Catholic Media: This is generally a terrible time for anyone in the old world of media. But there are many exciting developments in new media for Catholics—not the least of which is the rebooted CatholicExchange.com and its sister site, Crisis magazine (for which I also am a contributor). Even the old media is booming when it comes to Catholic outlets. According to a Washington Times report last month, Catholic radio is growing at a rate of a million listeners each month.
5. Catholic-Orthodox Relations: One of the biggest under-the-radar stories of the past few years is the warming relationship between the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church, especially in Russia. The trend appears to have continued in 2012, for those who closely read the tea leaves on such things. Some see this as the first step towards the eventual re-establishment of communion between the Catholic and Orthodox, a long sought hope for so many in the Church. It may seem beyond the realm of possibility, but communion between the two has previously been renewed—albeit, ever so briefly—in the Middle Ages, after the usual cited date for the decisive break, which is 1054 AD. Achieving this once and for all would be a tremendous spiritual boon to the Christian faith. As John Paul II once wrote, Europe has two lungs—it will never breathe easily until it uses both of them. Given that the Russian Orthodox Church, at an estimated 125 million adherents, is the second largest church body in the world after Catholicism (not Anglicanism), this would be a giant event in global Christianity, far surpassing much of the small-time ecumenical dialogue in the West that sometimes seems little more than window-dressing for relativism and doctrinal compromise.